'Gran Torino' revs up weekend b.o.

Clint Eastwood pic pulls in $29 million

Warner Bros. sped to the top of the domestic boxoffice this weekend, as Clint Eastwood's urban drama "Gran Torino" registered an estimated $29 million with a turbocharged expansion into wide release.

Fox's opening salvo with the romantic comedy "Bride Wars" captured second place with $21.5 million, while Universal's supernatural thriller "The Unborn" delivered $21.1 million in third. The three top debutantes outpaced expectations in a weekend so robust as to blow away any concern that economic hard times might discourage moviegoing.

Sony's urban drama "Not Easily Broken" bowed less dramatically, but with just 724 runs even its ninth-place showing of $5.6 million amounted to a solid showing.

Industrywide, the first weekend of the 2009 boxoffice year marked a 4% improvement over the same frame last year with $146 million in collective grosses, according to Nielsen EDI data.

The specialty market also was ebullient.

Paramount Vantage added 97 playdates for a total of 135 for its Leonardo DiCaprio-Kate Winslet starrer "Revolutionary Road" and grossed $1.4 million. That represented an impressive $10,666 per engagement and boosted its cume to $3.2 million.

Fox Searchlight added 42 locations for a total of 60 for its Mickey Rourke vehicle "The Wrestler" and grossed $873,900, or an auspicious $14,565 per site, for a $2.8 million cume.

The Weinstein Co.'s Winslet-toplined drama "The Reader" added 109 theaters for a total of 507 to gross $1.4 million, or a so-so $2,666 per venue, for a $5.5 million cume.

Overture added 10 playdates for a total of 16 for its romantic comedy "Last Chance Harvey," starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, and registered $151,058, or a solid $9,441 per engagement, as its cume reached $541,212.

And Sony Pictures Classics' animated drama "Waltz With Bashir" added three locations for a total of eight and grossed $80,889, or a pleasing $10,111, with a cume of $363,859.

Then there was the situation with IFC Films' Benicio Del Toro starrer "Che."

As planned, the distributor began distributing the Ernesto "Che" Guevara biopic in two parts following three weeks of bicoastal exclusives for the entire four-hour-plus epic. But it reported grosses for the two parts jointly.

The Steven Soderbergh-helmed pics grossed a combined $37,546, or $7,509 per theater, as cume hit $293,641. IFC programmed theaters with the separate films christened "Che, Part I" and "Che, Part II," abandoning the festival-circuit titles of "The Argentine" and "The Guerrilla."

In another twist, "Che" will expand Friday into solo runs in nine additional markets, where theaters will program both parts together for one weekend before splitting the film into two parts in each venue. "Che" will continue to play in two parts in New York and Los Angeles.

"We wanted to give people the opportunity to see the same 'road show' presentation that we had so much success with in New York and L.A.," IFC distribution president Mark Boxer said.



Patrons attending the full-length version of "Che" are provided special making-of materials and other promo adornments that IFC has dubbed its road show version of the film.

"Torino," helmed and toplined by Eastwood, fetched his biggest-ever tally with a pic's first weekend in wide release. His previous personal best came with "Space Cowboys," which unspooled wide in August 2000 with $18.1 million and overall grossed $90.5 million domestically.

"Clint's getting younger," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said of broad "Torino" support. "And 52% of the audience were females -- that's unusual for a Clint Eastwood film."

The successful expansion pushed "Torino's" cume to $40.1 million through five sessions of limited and wide release.

"Bride Wars," starring Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson, drew audiences skewing 80% female, with 52% of patrons under age 25. Fox senior vp distribution Chris Aronson noted the film's big bow came despite a Saturday snowfall in the Northeast.

"It just proves the old adage that if you have movies that people want to see, they're going to go to see them," Aronson said.

Rogue-produced "Unborn," starring Gary Oldman and Odetta Yustman, is the first film released following Relativity Media's purchase of the specialty unit. Uni distribution president Nikki Rocco crediting effects-laden commercials with connecting the PG-13 film with its young-female fan base.

"The marketing campaign was phenomenal from the get-go," Rocco said. "The TV spots were scary and looked different and fresh."

Relativity chief Ryan Kavanaugh said the "Unborn" bow demonstrates "how far we can go with this high focused (Rogue) brand."

"Broken", starring Morris Chestnut, drew audiences comprised 70% of females, with 69% of patrons aged 30 and over. "It was a solid opening, and we look forward to a terrific run," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said.

Studio costs on the Sony/TriStar title were a modest $5 million, according to a studio estimate.

Looking ahead, three wide releases hits multiplexes during the oft-lucrative Martin Luther King Jr. boxoffice session. Openers set for the four-day frame include Lionsgate's 3-D horror film "My Bloody Valentine," family comedy "Hotel for Dogs" from DreamWorks and Paramount and Sony laugher "Paul Blart: Mall Cop."
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